The Laurits Andersen PhD position in Business and Organizational Anthropology – Københavns Universitet

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28. juni 2017

The Laurits Andersen PhD position in Business and Organizational Anthropology

The Laurits Andersen PhD position in Business and Organizational Anthropology

Information for applicants 

The Laurits Andersen Foundation – a private foundation based on the will of Danish business man Laurits Andersen (1849-1928) who lived most of his professional life in China – has granted funds to the Department of Anthropology for a three-year fully financed PhD position in the field of business and organizational anthropology. Applicants are invited to submit proposals for doctoral research that must fall within one or more of the areas mentioned below. In accordance with the remits of the foundation, the general expectation is also that the research proposed will place special emphasis on its practical significance and value to Danish business. This means that successful proposals must reflect a clear academic interest in seeking general insights of a theoretical nature within the field of business and organizational anthropology, as well as pointing to the practical significance of the research, including plans for the dissemination of results to relevant business related audiences in Denmark. In terms of empirical focus, the study may relate to a particular company or to a certain sector of business or industry, or the field may go across a number different businesses and organisations. Regardless of the chosen field, the proposal must clearly present the relationship between the applicant’s overall theoretical interests and the particular forms and sites of fieldwork suggested. It is also essential to include considerations about the practicability of fieldwork, including any preliminary contacts or discussions made with partners in the field. 

Field of research
The five areas of research mentioned below are stipulated by the Foundation; the subsequent texts under each heading indicate possible interpretations for anthropological research. Proposals are welcome, but not required, to suggest other perspectives, as long as they relate specifically to one or more of the five headings. 

1. Efforts to make better use of natural business resources
Natural resources have long formed the basis for business and industry in Denmark. Sectors like agriculture and shipping have been – and still are – important to the national economy, and Denmark is home to some of the biggest dairy, brewing and shipping companies in the world. Other – newer – industries have also been based on natural resources, with wind turbines as the obvious example, while others have their roots in the nation’s world-leading engineering and medical research – the large pharmaceutical industry, for instance. Success in the global competition of the future will be dependent on Danish companies innovating and combining knowledge and expertise in new constellations. In areas such as design, innovation, user involvement and strategic development, anthropological research is already providing input into how Danish companies can take that crucial next step further up the value chain and move away from the production and sale of basic goods and services and toward more refined, focused, flexible products that generate greater value on the global market. Further research needs to be conducted and even more examples identified in order to support this inter-disciplinary field. 

2. Technical and scientific studies and experiments aimed at, or involving, potential improvements to production
Improvements to production are sometimes held back by a lack of technical innovation, but the problem often stems from a failure to transform technical and scientific advances into practical changes to the day-to-day running of the company, from a tendency to underestimate the extent to which existing technologies are integrated into the way organisations, managers, middle-managers and staff all work, and from a tendency to underestimate the importance of existing technologies to relationships with customers and partners. Resistance to new technology is routinely dismissed as “lack of adaptability” and such like, which reduces the problem to a question of attitudes. Exploring the social shifts involved in technological change is a classic anthropological theme – e.g. shifts in relationships between professional groups in formal and informal organisational hierarchies, in training and educational needs and in management competencies. Anthropology contributes in this way to thinking about the best ways to deploy new technology and how to do it in the most practical and appropriate manner. Anthropological expertise is increasingly incorporated into the development of technology and products: from the inclusion of user perspectives at the innovation stage, to communication between the different professions and their languages and approaches to the work of fine tuning and organising new forms of production. This largely practical application of anthropological expertise has emerged from the discipline’s research methodology and approaches. The ongoing dialogue between practitioners and researchers offers extraordinary opportunities for both sides to spur on development and for anthropologists to hone their skills. 

3. Testing the practical value of inventions or methods of production
From an anthropological perspective, the key word here is “practical”. How and why are new inventions and methods of production used (or not)? How can feedback from practice be used to ensure ongoing development? The anthropological approach is to test the practicality of new technologies in the complex setting of everyday use. This complements studies conducted under more controlled laboratory conditions and helps develop general models. The anthropological approach implies that practical value should not just be assessed in relation to technical efficiency, but also in the light of what potential organisational and managerial challenges, market conditions, corporate reputation, and so on, might mean for strategic choices. Anthropological insights into practice can help illustrate and address the challenges involved in introducing new techniques and workflows into production – the rocky path from invention to new daily routines. The anthropological approach to research is commonly said to be holistic, in that it considers “practical value” as openly as possible, which can lead to new perspectives for innovation and strategy. Anthropological research in this area draws on the field of economic anthropology as well as the anthropology of finance which both cover how value is created and understood under different social and cultural conditions, and which will hopefully shed new analytical light on Danish companies, what they do and the environment in which they operate. 

4. Studying practical business problems of a general nature
Since the very start, business and organisational anthropology has studied closely how organisations and management operate in practice, i.e. processes between people and groups that cannot simply be assumed to follow a formal pattern laid out in an organisational diagram, but which are instead influenced by a whole range of individual and social interests and obligations – without it all falling apart. Classic anthropological questions are asked: What makes society and leadership possible? What principles apply to the ways in which people organise? The concept of organisational culture has gained traction outside anthropology in more mainstream business studies, but the subject has much more to offer. In particular, management and leadership studies is an area in which there is still a great deal of potential for research.

The traditional anthropological view of the company as a social unit has also been significantly enhanced by a closer interest in interaction with the rest of society – not just relationships with other companies, customers and suppliers, but also with other 'stakeholders' in civil society and politics. For example, anthropological studies show that companies’ relationships to their customers and users not only reflect certain understandings of the market, but also very much how they perceive their own products. This shows that new knowledge about customers may lead to new marketing strategies and challenges to the way in which companies organise their internal practices. Nor do companies act purely as neutral bodies devoted to generating profits – however fundamental an aim that may be. They are also political entities and in other ways active members of society whose actions should be seen in the context of global competition, the international news cycles, social values ​​and responsibilities, and so on. Anthropology is particularly well placed to study how companies act in practice under these conditions.

5. Studying markets abroad and how to prepare them for the introduction of Danish products
The classic anthropology assignment consists of studying and understanding other societies and cultures. This includes gaining insights into how a country offers not only “one community” and “one culture” but also how most people live in a socially complex and culturally diverse reality. Simultaneously, modern nation states are all changing rapidly because of regular economic and technological advances. This does not happen in a uniform manner or move in any one particular direction: on the contrary, anthropological studies show how globalisation – understood as closer contact and interdependence throughout the world – is expressed in various ways and has different consequences in different places. Anthropological research can provide companies with guidelines to a better understanding of these dynamics and their implications for establishing production and sales outside Denmark, now and in the future. To mention just a few examples, this can involve following value and production chains through their many stages and localities, the changing practices of global financial services and products, identifying the conditions faced by intercultural communication in e-commerce, examining the importance of the global movement of labour and new forms of cultural diversity in the workforce, and considering cultural variation in design and marketing. This is clearly yet another area in which researchers at the University and practitioners in the field could work even more closely together.

For application details, please refer to the call advertised.